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Les Miserables court battle

Les Miserables
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PARIS, France -- Publishers of an unauthorised sequel to the 19th century novel Les Miserables are being sued.

Descendents of Les Miserables author Victor Hugo are seeking $594,000 damages from publishing house Plon.

They say Francois Ceresa, author of the sequel Cosette or the Time of Illusions, broke a French law protecting the integrity of works of art and that the new book violates intellectual property rights and betrays the spirit of the original novel.

Hugo's great-great-grandson Pierre Hugo said: "The characters have been kidnapped. Authors should have a little imagination and do something different."

The new novel, which is in bookstores and costs $20, is wrapped in ribbon reading, "The sequel to Les Miserables."

It brings back to life villain Javert - this time as a hero. In Hugo's original work, Javert drowns himself in the Seine.

"Victor Hugo loved his ending," Pierre Hugo told The Associated Press. "He wouldn't want anyone to change it."

In an earlier letter to the daily Liberation, the descendants wrote: "The misuse of a work of our cultural heritage for commercial purposes should be barred or abandoned in any intelligent human community that is concerned about protecting and enriching its culture."

They also sent the letter to President Jacques Chirac, the French ministers of culture and education and the European Parliament urging them to speak out against the sequel and condemn the misuse of literary classics.

The descendants believe the court battle will also "serve a moral and symbolic purpose," adding that they would donate any damages awarded to a charity promoting culture.

Plon says Cosette or the Time of Illusions was written as a tribute to Hugo's classic. Their lawyers also say that Hugo did not trust his family to manage his legacy, having once described his grandchildren as "simpletons."

Ceresa plans to write further Les Misrerables sequels, with Marius or the Fugitive due out in the autumn. The court decision is anticipated on Sept. 12.

A similar court battle has been fought recently in the United States with the estate of Margaret Mitchell suing Alice Randall for her retelling the Civil War novel Gone With the Wind from the perspective of slaves.

A judge ruled in April that The Wind Done Gone violated the copyright of Mitchell's 1936 novel, but the federal appeals court reversed the ruling, and the novel is back in bookstores.

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